Paul Thorn On Mountain Stage
Mountain Stage has long been a magnet for those who view the world from their own refreshingly tilted axis, like Mississippi native Paul Thorn, who took the less traveled route to a career in music. Thorn, after stints as a professional boxer and furniture maker, became a songwriter in the 1990s. Over the last couple of decades, he has visited Mountain Stage many times, and in June 2021, he made his ninth appearance, performing at the Culture Center in Charleston, W.Va.
Thorn came bearing fresh fruit with the life-watered and wryly-humored songs off of his latest album, Never Too Late to Call, recorded with producer Matt Ross-Spang at the legendary Sam Phillips Studio in nearby Memphis, Tenn.
"He grew up in Elvis' hometown of Tupelo, Miss., the son of a Pentecostal preacher, playing tambourine and singing in church. And later, he came under the tutelage of an uncle who has been described as a pimp and a small-time hustler. You can hear the influences of both in his music," said Mountain Stage host Kathy Mattea. "Prepare to be charmed, entertained and pulled into the unique world of Paul Thorn."
After Mattea's introduction, the singer-songwriter warmed up with "Everybody Looks Good At The Starting Line," a slice-of-life track off of 2014's Mission Temple Fireworks Stand. Then, he jumped into fresh stories and fare. "Apple Pie Moonshine," off from his new album, was poured out with the hilarity and unwavering sincerity of a classic SNL skit, as has come to be expected from Thorn, who has penned such comic fare as "It's A Great Day to Whup Somebody's Ass," a cautionary song about drinking.
But Thorn's music isn't all laughs. On Never Too Late to Call, and in this performance, the artist is pulling back the curtain and showing his softer side. After an amusing anecdote about a fight he had with his wife over Funyuns while he was recovering from COVID-19, Thorn delivered a funny but also beautifully resilient portrait of their long-standing marriage, "Breaking Up For Good Again."
Next, he paid a sweet and powerful tribute to his late sister Deborah in the title track. "When you can't turn off the voices in your head / My phone stays on the nightstand by my bed," he sang in honor of his and Deborah's late night conversations from the past. "When you're wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of a lake / And it feels like your heart can't take another break / Just remember that I love you and it's never too late to call."
While Thorn aces quirky tunes, like his set-closing "Sapolo," the smoking one-chord story based on the late James Brown's post-jail press conference, it also seems on brand during such crazy times for the whiskey-throated soul singer to let loose with real feelings, like on "Two Tears of Joy," an ode to gratitude for the luck, embrace and forgiveness of friends and family.
"The next time I play I get a Mountain Stage jacket," Thorn said of trying to reach the coveted 10th concert milestone. "So I've got a lot to be thankful for. ... If you're here tonight, you do too. I'm 56 years old, and I'll be 57 [on] July 13. It is what it is. Some people — they don't want to talk about how old they are, but embrace it. It's good to be alive."
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